Department of Labor
In the last days of the Trump administration, the Trump Department of Labor (“DOL”) finalized a rule that made it more difficult for socially conscious investments to be included in retirement plans. The Trump-era rule discouraged employer 401(k) and other retirement plans from offering funds from managers that consider Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”) factors over investment returns or risk in their due diligence. Despite this, ESG funds continue to gain in popularity, and the new Biden administration has stated that it will not enforce the Trump-era rule as it considers reversing it.
The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has recently proposed a rule change that would revise its interpretation of “independent contractor” under the Fair Labor Standard Act (“FLSA”). According to DOL, which has the power to investigate worker complaints about misclassifications, this change is needed to promote certainty for stakeholders, reduce litigation, and encourage innovation in the economy. However, this proposed rule could also diminish employee rights because independent contractors have fewer protections under FLSA. This rule widens the scope of who can be considered an independent contractor. Thus, many workers classified as employees could be reclassified as independent contractors and lose protections under FLSA.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) recently announced alterations to its previous regulations which expanded family and medical leave provisions and paid sick leave of April’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). These revisions serve to clarify the responsibilities of employers and the rights of workers as they relate to the paid leave of FFCRA. These revisions come after a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York which invalidated portions of the initial regulations. The WHD’s revisions are an example of the lack of clarity and adequate response from regulations designed to protect workers during the current pandemic.
In September, the Department of Labor announced a final revised “Overtime Rule” set to take effect on January 1, 2020, that raises the “standard-salary level” from $455 to $684 weekly to an annual total of $35,568. This will entitle anyone making less than this standard salary to receive fifty percent more in hourly wages for any hours worked in excess of forty in one week because they are no longer “exempted” from the overtime pay requirement in the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Rule is expected to allow 1.3 million previously-exempt workers access to overtime pay. Workers who make more than this threshold can still receive overtime pay if their roles do not include substantial decision making such as administrative, professional, or executive jobs.
A pair of injunctions in the Northern District of California on January 13, and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on January 14, halted the implementation of amendments to a religious exemption to the so-called contraception “mandate” of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The “mandate” requires most employers to include contraception coverage in the insurance plans they offer to employees. While Obama administrative agencies contemplated religious exemptions early on, contentious litigation and political transition expanded the scope of the exemption until these latest developments.
For the first time since 2013, on Saturday, January 20th, 2018, the U.S. government ran out of money when Congress failed to pass a spending bill to fund the federal government. Much of the federal government’s operations have ground to a halt due to the lack of funding. Because Congress is seemingly at an impasse over immigration policy, the shutdown may last several days, if not weeks. In light of Loyola’s upcoming symposium exploring what happens when regulation is not enforced, it is interesting to consider how, in a similar vein, the shutdown affects compliance.